Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Land of Milk and Honey

Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Land of Milk and Honey
Chatfield United Methodist Church
Rev. Debra Jene Collum
November 10, 2013

It was wonderful to come into worship this morning; to see the fat, healthy ears of corn hanging from the corn stalks. Reminding us of the harvest, plenty and the land.

In the fall, as I work in my gardens getting them ready for their winter slumber, I hear the dryer fans from the grain elevator and know the harvest is coming.
The big wagons full of corn come down Winona street full to overflowing. Later they will return rattling, empty. The sounds of fall here in Chatfield.

The sound of grain drying provides a comforting backdrop to my own preparations for winter.
And I am reminded, in this country, partly because of the work of farmers in MN, we have the resources and the where withal to allow everyone to live comfortably and healthfully in our own land of flowing with milk and honey.

Which is exactly the situation in our Hebrew text the morning. 

This text which I will read was written to the Israelites to help them celebrate and worship God who has gifted them with plenty. These verses from Chapter 26 of Deuteronomy were written so that when the Israelites came together to remember they would do it with thanksgiving.
Hear these words from Deuteronomy 26: “Once you enter the land that God, your God, is giving you as an inheritance and take it over and settle down, go to the priest who is there and say, “I announce to God, your God, today that I have entered the land that God promised our ancestors that he’d give to us.” And there in the Presence of God, your God, you will recite:
5-10 A wandering and perishing Aramean was my father,
he went down to Egypt and sojourned there,
he and just a handful of his brothers at first, but soon
they became a great nation, mighty and many.
The Egyptians abused and battered us,
in a cruel and savage slavery.
We cried out to God, the God-of-Our-Fathers:
God the Almighty listened to our voice, God saw
our destitution, our trouble, our cruel plight.
And God took us out of Egypt
with his strong hand and long arm, terrible and great,
with signs and miracle-wonders.
And God brought us to this place,
gave us this land flowing with milk and honey.
So here I am.
Then prostrate yourselves in the Presence of God, your God. And rejoice! Celebrate all the good things that God, your God, has given you and your family; you and the foreigner who lives with you.”

The Israelites were commanded by their holy texts to see that God had provided them and the foreigner/stranger who lived in their land with every thing they needed to be comfortable and well off.

As those who have inherited the promises and covenants that were given to the Jews, we too have been gifted with plenty and enough; for ourselves and those who are living with us in the land. We are living in a land of milk and honey. No matter what our economic status is. We have all that we need to be called people of God. We have all we need to be called people of God.

I think we need to be reminded of our abundance and our identity as God’s children, as we sit on the edge of the season of wanting more and more and more. And begin talking about the depression, stress, and the overwhelming false-guilt of the holiday season.

With all the stressors of the holidays we may suddenly feel like our milk and honey life has become soured and sticky and filled with flies.
Now I’m not going to tell you to simply snap out of it, count your blessings and put on a happy face.  Say thank you Jesus and realize how lucky you are.

That would be like pulling the trick your parents may have pulled when you were served yucky vegetables, be thankful for the food on your plate, young lady. The children in Africa would give anything to have what you have.

As you stared at that messy lump of food on your plate you hated those children in Africa and wished you could just send them this disgusting stuff and wouldn’t they just deserve it.

How do we get through these next weeks of more and more and more without giving into sour grapes or fake joy? How we manage to remain focused on the God who has led us to the land of milk and honey?

The context of Deuteronomy is not only about praising God for what God has done for us: bringing out of a place of slavery to sin and death, I left something out of the reading. I left the vegetables in the kitchen. Until now: Hear the rest of the story.

“Once you enter the land that God, your God, is giving you as an inheritance and take it over and settle down, you are to take some of all the firstfruits of what you grow in the land that God, your God, is giving you, put them in a basket and go to the place God, your God, sets apart for you to worship him. At that time, go to the priest who is there and say, “I announce to God, your God, today that I have entered the land that God promised our ancestors that he’d give to us.” The priest will take the basket from you and place it on the Altar of God, your God.”

This passage is also about bringing the gifts of our land to God as a thank offering, as a way of saying Thank you God, look at what you have given me. Look at what I am able to take from my stores without worry about whether or not I will starve. Look at what you have given me so that I can gift others with some of the same.

Like those vegetables your mom would coax you to eat, talking about offerings can put us on the defensive. So, I didn’t want to lead with that part about bringing offerings to God. But you know what, bringing your offering to God is more than about keeping the bills paid and the church running. It is also about reminding ourselves of all God has given us and our ability to be able to give an offering. It is, like eating vegetables, good for our well being. Because bringing an offering in faith that you won’t need that first fruit that you are bringing means that you believe that you live in a land of enough. Where there is enough for all.  It is so important to our well being that God made sure the Israelites began practicing the thank offering as soon as they settled in the land. We will have lots of opporutnities in this season to give to others. We don’t do this because it makes us feel better or that somehow we will be more well thought of by God. God will love us whether or not we give to the Christmas Tree project, fillmore place or the food shelf. The thank offering, light a candle offering or the regular offering. Giving our gifts are a way for us to say, I have enough, I have plenty. I believe that I do live in the land of milk and honey, that God has brought me to a place of blessing. And I am desirous to give in order that others might experience what it feels like to live in the land overflowing.

How do we get through the next few weeks of more, more, more? We get through them the same way we dwell in the land flowing with milk and honey the rest of the time. For we live in abundance everyday of the year. We are tempted into over consumption, greed, depression, and anxiety every day of the year. It is the dark side of living in a land of milk and honey.

We get through them by focusing on thankfulness, and giving God our thank offering. Whether it be the first fruits of the ground or the first fruits of our day. We live as if every day is the first day and the last day of our life. We live as if every day is enough. And we say thanks, with a grateful heart.

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